In brief remarks to Japan’s Parliament on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine appealed to the Asian nation’s memories of nuclear disaster and a chemical weapon attack in an attempt to persuade lawmakers there to increase their support for his country amid the Russian invasion.
Over the course of 12 minutes, the Ukrainian leader warned that Russia’s invasion could set off a nuclear catastrophe in Chernobyl, invoking memories of the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that displaced thousands and led countries such as Germany to reconsider their own use of nuclear power.
He also alluded to another national tragedy by warning that Russia could use chemical weapons, such as the nerve gas sarin, in Ukraine. In 1995, members of a Japanese cult used the chemical in an attack on Tokyo’s subway system, killing 14 people and injuring nearly 6,000.
And he thanked Japan for being the first Asian nation to take action against Russia after its invasion and urged lawmakers to continue sanctions against the country.
Zelensky told lawmakers that the invasion had turned Chernobyl into a “war zone,” adding that “when the war is over, it will take years to survey the extent of the environmental damage.” He said the war could have dangerous consequences for another 15 nuclear reactors in four locations in Ukraine.
Although the Japanese government and public have rallied to Ukraine’s defence, it is unclear what additional measures can be taken by the country, whose pacifist Constitution limits its ability to respond.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters after the speech that he would consider increasing humanitarian aid to Ukraine and adding further sanctions on Russia.
Japan has joined with the United States and other nations in imposing economic penalties on Russian companies, leaders and prominent businessmen, and has provided nonlethal gear, such as helmets, to the Ukrainian military.
Japan’s rush to action is a sharp contrast to its behaviour during Russia’s previous invasions of Crimea, Georgia and Ukraine, when Japanese politicians were criticized for taking a soft stance against their neighbour’s aggression.
Japan and Russia are involved in a longstanding territorial dispute over islands in Japan’s northeast, off the coast of Hokkaido. Japan’s long-serving former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, had invested enormous effort in cultivating a relationship with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in an effort to resolve the contentious issue of the islands’ ownership.
On Monday, Russia said it had ended negotiations with Japan over the issue as well as efforts to sign a peace treaty formally ending the World War II-era conflict between the nations.
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